May 23—Three or more years of detours in Duluth started last summer, with the closure of the 27th Avenue West bridge over Interstate 35.
But that was only the beginning. While the 27th Avenue West overpass has a targeted opening of mid-June, there are many other closures and detours on the way.
Anyone needing to travel through or access the Lincoln Park neighborhood will become well-acquainted with orange cones and signs for workarounds.
"The term we use a lot is 'user delays,'" Pete Marthaler told the News Tribune last week. "Even though we can't assign a cost, there is an economic cost if we slow down traffic and trucks from getting to where they need to go. We're trying to keep traffic flowing; it's also a safer situation to keep traffic flowing as opposed to coming to a halt."
Marthaler is the Minnesota Department of Transportation's major-projects manager overseeing the $343 million Twin Ports Interchange reconstruction project.
There's no fewer than eight detours in play when it comes to the project, including some extended two- to three-year reroutes, like sending traffic to the Bong Bridge for two years beginning this fall for southbound I-35 travelers.
Exits off of the Blatnik Bridge going north or south onto I-35 close in winter and this spring, respectively. Again, the Bong Bridge is the alternative.
"There is definitely a need to replicate the capacity of the detour route relative to the former route," Marthaler said.
This fall, traffic on I-35 heading south will be diverted onto Lower Michigan Street. Doing so will create four lanes of I-35 traffic coursing through the project.
The joint construction venture between Ames Construction, of Burnsville, Minnesota, and Kraemer Construction, of Duluth, came up with the solution to turn Lower Michigan Street into an interstate bypass.
"It's not without cost and coordination, but from a user-impact standpoint, it is pretty brilliant," Marthaler said.
Lower Michigan Street will carry I-35's southbound lanes for a year, ending fall 2022.
There are other considerations, such as traffic in the heart of Lincoln Park. Right now there is work being diverted around West First Street and its intersections with both 21st Avenue West and Piedmont Avenue.
In both cases, utility work is being conducted as part of the interchange project. Also, at First and Piedmont, the road profile is being corrected to allow for long, oversize loads to avoid "high-centering," or scraping their trailer bodies on the road.
It's a problem that will also be corrected by the interchange project as a whole, as new bridges and ramps throughout I-35, I-535 to Superior and U.S. Highway 53 toward the Iron Range will no longer be weight restricted.
MnDOT considers the local intersection closures less demanding of major detours, and doesn't set up elaborate reroutes.
Much of the traffic is locally generated and knowledgeable about alternative routes, Marthaler said.
Still, those two portions of work have created plenty of traffic cones in the neighborhood, and residents can expect relief soon as it won't long before work is completed.
"We are inside of a month of finishing up the intersections at First and Piedmont and First and 21st," Marthaler said.
One small workaround Marthaler noted when talking about detours and the Twin Ports Interchange: one will always be able to catch Highway 53 to the mall by taking the on-ramp at 21st Avenue West in the heart of the neighborhood.
"The ramps onto 53 from Lincoln Park are still available," he said, noting that part of the highway comes outside the project area. "Those will be alive for the duration of the project."
Another traffic management note: there are queue detection systems along I-35 which use flashing lights and messaging to alert traffic to slow down or prepare to stop should traffic farther ahead crawl to a halt.
Marthaler finished by making a pitch for the maligned zipper merge when necessary. The zipper merge calls for two lanes of traffic to alternate entry at the point where traffic is reduced to a single lane.
"From a traffic management standpoint we want to minimize people's delay," he said. "We want to continue to advocate for the zipper merge."
Portions of West Superior Street close Monday
Portions of West Superior Street will close starting Monday due to construction. A contractor will be installing pavement marking for the Cross City Trail relocation, which will provide a protected alternative route for bicyclists while the existing trail is closed for the duration of the three-year interchange project.
Superior Street between 18th and 22nd avenues west will be closed until work is complete.
The expectation is that regular traffic will be restored by 5 p.m. Thursday, a city of Duluth news release said Friday. Detours will be marked and utilized throughout the week, including two-way traffic on West Michigan Street.
Public meeting on interchange Monday
MnDOT is hosting a virtual public meeting at 12:15 p.m. Monday to provide updates on the Twin Ports Interchange project in Duluth.
To prevent further spread of COVID-19, MnDOT is not hosting in-person public meetings at this time. The virtual meeting will provide participants an opportunity to ask questions of MnDOT staff.
To join the virtual meeting visit: mndot.gov/d1/projects/twin-ports-interchange/meetings.
Those without internet access can also join by calling 855-282-6330 and entering access code 187 752 8413. For those unable to attend in person, a recording will be posted on the project webpage to view when convenient.